Rite of spring 

Inman Park Dance Festival steps into gap

There was a time when they all came together each year: dancers, actors, musicians, sculptors and painters. From around Atlanta and all over the world, they came to Piedmont Park in the spring for the Arts Festival of Atlanta. And the people of Atlanta came to see them by the thousands. On weekends, you could barely move for the press of the crowd.

For 10 days, people who had never dared the rare air of a gallery admired the work of abstract modernists with paintings hung in tents around the lake. They moved on to jazz concerts and edgy avant-garde dance performances. It was an orgy of art amidst a feast of hot dogs and funnel cakes.

Despite its success, the Arts Festival went bankrupt in 1998 thanks to an ill-timed change of season and locale, coupled with a whopping bill from the city for cleanup and security. The swinging party was over, and the artists returned to their tribes.

Though the pan-artistic high is now just a pollen-dusted memory, other neighborhood festivals have risen to greater prominence to help fill the void. Consider Inman Park, Atlanta's neo-hippie wonderland housed in Victorian castles and Craftsman bungalows. Since 1971, the neighborhood has hosted the eclectic Inman Park Spring Festival, a juried arts and crafts fair and a street market featuring live music, plenty of food and one of the more eccentric parades you're likely to see this side of San Francisco.

Though the festival had occasionally included some traditional dance -- clogging and the like -- concert dance didn't enter the mix until after the demise of the Arts Festival. Carolyn McLaughlin, associate director of the Good Moves Consort dance company and an Inman Park resident, went to the neighborhood association with the idea of incorporating a dance festival into the neighborhood's annual event. The association agreed to assist McLaughlin with planning and help fund the festival for the first three years. Some neighbors pulled out their checkbooks and added individual contributions.

The Inman Park Dance Festival debuted in 2000 and became a popular addition to the three-day festivities. Last year, McLaughlin estimates, 1,200 people came to the free dance performances. "Most of those folks are not the traditional dance audience," says McLaughlin. The numbers are nothing like what the Arts Festival once drew, but maybe that's a good thing. Under the shade of ancient oaks, this spring rite might escape the Arts Festival's unfortunate fate. Let a dozen agile arts festivals arise in the aftermath of the fallen behemoth.

At this year's dance festival, two works examine the interplay of primal and ethereal energies. Gathering Wild's "Novena" searches for present revelations of deity in the fusion of a Bach fugue with traditional Gabonese chants. Good Moves Consort's "Of Apes and Angels" unites animal and angelic gestures to music by Vivaldi.

The Zoetic Dance Ensemble performs their "Flying by Fixes," an athletic modern dance that adds a techno sensibility to traditional African music.

Moving in the Spirit stages "101," a celebration of eccentric teachers choreographed by Dana Phelps Marschalk in collaboration with four inner-city teenagers who kept journals of their high school experiences.

Two companies consider the many forms of love. Full Radius Dance will do selections from "Modern Love": an aching resurrection of love nearly lost and a bouncy celebration of playground crushes. The Georgia Ballet will do the classic pas de quatre from Sleeping Beauty.

thomas.bell@creativeloafing.com

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